Monday, December 31, 2012

The Coming of Age Novel

[Source]
Several months ago a post on Goodreads got me to thinking. It was a simple enough post. The person was asking for a list of coming of age books for boys. I mentioned A Separate Peace as I loved that book as a teenager, I love it still and we teach it to our Sophomores. Sure it's a Classic, but it's a good Classic, one that I can get into and I can get the kids into. I mean really who doesn't have a best friend who they are also jealous of? Who hasn't wanted physical harm to come to someone, but regretted it when it actually does? Who hasn't realized, at least once, that they're the bad guy and they deserve to lose? This book is also set during war with main characters that are too young to fight, but who really want to, with main characters who see their friends going of to war and realize that maybe war isn't really all it's cracked up to be. This was especially poignant in 2002 and is still poignant if I have a student whose older brother or sister or friend has been or is in Iraq or Afghanistan. They get it.

Anyway, so I mentioned A Separate Peace and someone replied that kids don't read that anymore, they find it boring and can't relate. I wanted to know why students could no longer relate, I mean I was/am teaching it to students and they seem to be interested enough (seriously, I find that anything that's assigned will not agree with everyone, but if I can get one kid in my class to hop on the band-wagon, several others follow). I began to wonder what modern coming of age novel appealed to teens today. To be clear, on my search for these books I didn't want trendy books, I wanted genuine Bildungsroman novels that for some reason or another would stand the test of time, and sure, that's going to be slightly subjective. I also feel that no matter what age of a teen book, if you can find the hook, it can relate to any teen. The themes found in any Bildungroman are universal to the teen experience.

At first, I found this article from NPR that seemed to play into what the Goodreads post was saying. Sure, for those of you who don't want to click to read it, The Catcher in the Rye is still be assigned and still on banned book lists, but really it seems to be out of touch with young people today. This article at least points out that Holden Caulfield may not relate to teens today because the majority of teens are not WASP-y (my words not theirs), and those that weren't when the book came out didn't really have a voice to say otherwise.

Nowadays there are tons of voices (GLBT, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Muslim, inner-city, male, female, tween, rural and I could go on and on and on) and I'm sure each of these voices have different ideas of what might classify as a coming of age novel for the modern teen.

Major traits of a Bildungsroman or Coming of Age Novel (for this I'm using the word interchangeably)

  1. "focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and in which character change is thus extremely important"*
  2. the protagonist is looking for answers and experience 
  3. a journey to maturity through a major event in the character's life
  4. because the above books were both written in the 50s and I'm looking for books for modern teens written, all of the books below were written after the 1950s. I suppose that makes them post-modern, but anyway...
25 Modern Bildungsroman (alphabetized by authors last name)
  1. Alexie, Sherman The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian
  2. Andersen, Laura Halse Speak
  3. Blume, Judy Forever
  4. Brashares, Ann Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Books 1)
  5. Chbosky, Stephen The Perks of Being A Wallflower
  6. Childress, Alice A Hero Ain't Nothin But A Sandwich
  7. Cisneros, Sandra The House on Mango Street
  8. Crutcher, Chris Chinese Handcuffs
  9. Danizger, Paula The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
  10. Diaz, Juno Drown
  11. Eugenides, Jeffrey The Virgin Suicides
  12. Gough, Julian Juno and Juliet
  13. Green, John An Abundance of Katherines
  14. Guest, Judith Ordinary People
  15. Haddon, Mark The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  16. Murakami, Haruki Norwegian Wood
  17. Myracle, Lauren Kissing Kate
  18. Hinton, SE The Outsiders
  19. Ockler, Sarah Twenty Boy Summer
  20. Picoult, Jodi My Sister's Keeper
  21. Potok, Chaim Chosen
  22. Sebold, Alice The Lovely Bones
  23. Vizzini, Ned It's Kind of a Funny Story
  24. Woodson, Jacqueline The House You Pass on the Way
  25. Zindel, Paul The Amazing and Death-Defying of Eugene Dingman


My knee jerk votes can be found here.

What should I add to the list above?

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